How long a laptop lasts on its internal battery is one of the most important considerations for PC shoppers. Business travelers and students are often at the mercy of their computer’s remaining juice, since so many conference rooms, airplanes, and classrooms are woefully short on accessible power outlets. Just a few years ago, it was necessary to buy and charge an external battery pack to get long battery life, or to insist on a machine with a removable, swappable battery. But today, even many thin ultraportables with sealed-shut chassis show impressive endurance away from an AC outlet.
These recent improvements in laptop battery life are thanks to CPUs and other components that are more power-efficient than ever. (It’s not just battery technology that deserves the credit.) That’s especially true of Intel’s newest Core processors, which power many of the longest-lasting models currently on our list. (The chip maker’s 10th Generation CPUs have mostly taken over our picks list, as we have reviewed more and more of them over the course of 2020.)
A laptop that can last for more than eight hours without a trip to a power plug should be enough to get you through a day’s work, but that’s not good enough to make it to the upper echelons today. Each of the laptops and 2-in-1s we’ve selected lasted for more than 17 hours on our tests, which means that they can survive a full day at the office and still offer plenty of juice for your commute or for watching videos on the couch. (Maybe both.)
In addition to being a critical specification, battery life is one of the toughest to measure. If you’re watching movies all day long, you’ll get far more unplugged time than someone who’s editing images nonstop in Photoshop. We test battery life based on a very specific scenario: watching movies stored locally at 50 percent screen brightness and with airplane mode turned on. If you’re frequently performing more CPU-intensive or graphics-hammering tasks, you’ll want to shave an hour or two off of our results.
Know Your Form Factor
Our top 10 list is stacked with traditional laptops and convertible designs with 360-degree display hinges. Detachable Windows tablets tend to be underrepresented, and for good reason: There’s simply no room for a large battery in such a small enclosure. One notable exception is the Microsoft Surface Book line, which includes two separate batteries, one in the tablet and one in the keyboard base. In the last-generation Surface Book 2, together, they eked out an impressive 17 hours of battery life in our testing, but you’ll get far less than that if you’re using the tablet by itself. (We recently tested the updated Surface Book 3, and it just missed a repeat performance, logging just under 16 hours.)
Of course, no matter what kind of laptop you’re in the market for, you can always add a few minutes or a few hours to your unplugged time by changing your computing habits. It’s a bit like driving more conservatively to save gas. For some ideas, take a look at our tips for improving your laptop’s battery life.
Want the Best Battery Life? Also Consider a Mac
Apple’s MacBook and MacBook Pro lineups have a reputation for excellent battery endurance, and Cupertino’s current offerings are no exception. Most of the portable Macs we’ve tested recently can manage more than 18 hours away from an outlet, but the newest releases last even longer. The new MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro, running on Apple’s own M1 processor for the first time, both lasted for over 20 hours on our video rundown test (the M1 MacBook Air ran for an incredible 29 hours). Which one you should choose depends on your budget, your portability needs, and your usage patterns, but you can’t go wrong on the battery-life front with any Apple ultraportable.
Other manufacturers are more hit-and-miss. The top honors for battery life among Intel-based Windows laptops of the moment go the Asus ExpertBook B9450 (30 hours!), but many competing machines run down much more quickly. We’re also seeing an emerging class of “always on” machines based on low-power Qualcomm Snapdragon processors that have outlasted most Intel-based Windows and macOS laptops we have tested. (See for example our review of the Samsung Galaxy Book2.) But know that these laptops are meant more for lightweight mobile computing with a continuous internet connection, and are far from power models meant for CPU muscle work.
Ready for Our Recommendations?
If you have a long plane flight (far less common for most folks here in 2020 than in the past), or a spate of working outdoors ahead of you, or if you’re just too busy to linger around a power outlet for long enough, any of these laptops will keep you productive throughout the day and into the evening. For a look at the wider laptop landscape, check out our very latest laptop reviews, as well as our picks for the top business notebooks and the best budget laptops.